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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)

 

Five children were seen fleeing the scene of a playground fire at Woodville Elementary School in Richmond's East End on Wednesday afternoon.

The fire, fueled by a rubber safety mat that surrounded the play area, broke out about 3 p.m. but was quickly extinguished by the Richmond Fire Department, which happened to have a truck in the area.

"I saw some kids under the slide, I turned back, and the kids were running and the slide was burning," said Sandra Johnson, who lives nearby and lamented that her granddaughter loved playing there. "They couldn't have been older than 11."

It's the second time in five years that the Woodville playground has been set on fire, and Richmond Public Schools officials said it was the 20th time that school playground equipment had been set ablaze in the past six years.

Interim Superintendent Tommy Kranz confirmed that children were suspected as perpetrators. He said the fire caused at least $75,000 in damage and that there was no way the playground could be repaired and reopened before school starts next month.

The fire was brief, but witnesses described huge flames and billowing smoke.

The last time a playground was set afire in the city was in April at Redd Elementary School. A juvenile was charged shortly afterward.

Kranz said he had no idea why children keep setting the school district's playgrounds on fire.

"I wish I knew," he said.

Johnson, however, has a theory.

"They don't have no love at home, so they come out here and damage stuff," she said. "You show kids some love, give them things to do, they don't do stuff like this."

noliver@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6178Twitter: @nedoliver

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